Caste and Higher Education in India: Shades of Discrimination

Abstract

The goal of education is to maximize the participation of all learners involved in education irrespective of caste, religion, gender, ethnicity, race or any other indicator of differentiation and to make learning more meaningful and relevant for all, particularly those learners most vulnerable to exclusionary pressures. Equal and fair access to education is a prerequisite for development of human capabilities. A disturbing feature of higher education in our country is the low and unequal access to higher education for scheduled castes that often reduces their chances of expanding their human capabilities making them disadvantaged to avail the fruits of economic growth and development.

The scheduled castes have mostly entered institutions of higher learning through affirmative action measures (reservations) and therefore are seen as lacking merit. Merit is considered sacrosanct in education and therefore the entry through reservations is equated with ‘death of merit’ by others who see their presence as ‘excessive and threatening’. Higher castes students and anti-reservationists often fail to understand that it is not lack of merit but unequal access to institutions of higher learning that make them avail of reservations.

Get quality help now
Bella Hamilton
Verified writer

Proficient in: Caste

5 (234)

“ Very organized ,I enjoyed and Loved every bit of our professional interaction ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

The paper addresses the concerns of the scheduled caste students who are perceived as lacking merit that also affects their performance. It discusses the experiences and issues they face as dalit students. Located within the social constructivist perspective the present paper shows student- student and faculty- student interactions and expectations influence student performance, perceptions and attitudes. It also discusses the strategies to increase social cohesiveness and make learning inclusive.

Get to Know The Price Estimate For Your Paper
Topic
Number of pages
Email Invalid email

By clicking “Check Writers’ Offers”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We’ll occasionally send you promo and account related email

"You must agree to out terms of services and privacy policy"
Write my paper

You won’t be charged yet!

Introduction

Education is both a liberating and democratising force smoothing out inequalities. As a social need the goal of education is to maximize the participation of all learners involved in education irrespective of caste, religion, gender, ethnicity, race or any other indicator of differentiation and to make learning more meaningful and relevant for all, particularly those learners most vulnerable to exclusionary pressures. Higher education has witnessed growth in the post-independence period contributing to the socio- economic and political transformation in the society. However the issues and challenges that education faces has also increased with regards to equity, access and quality ( Tilak 2014) Moreover the entry of private sector that are profit oriented has also contributed to the challenges faced in higher education.

Equal and fair access to education is a prerequisite for development of human capabilities. Higher education is one of the prime and important structures for mobility, change, and development. For elite classes pursuing higher education is for securing a comfortable life, whereas for the underprivileged class it is a means to combat centuries of socio-economic backwardness. A disturbing feature of higher education in our country is the low and unequal access to higher education for scheduled castes that often reduces their chances of expanding their human capabilities making them disadvantaged to avail the fruits of economic growth and development.

Caste is a major divisive force in the erudite spaces of higher learning that are marred with prejudice and discrimination against students from the Scheduled caste. Caste has been functioning as a main source of difference in the sociocultural capital that has been contributing to differentiation and inequality in education. Traditionally lower sections of the caste hierarchy have been educationally deprived. The lower caste groups by tradition have had little by way of cultural capital that would help them in the formal system of education. To rectify the situation reservation was introduced to help the deprived section gain equal access to quality education. Reservations for SC/ ST and OBC have increased access to these groups however the inequalities still exist. Having entered prestigious institutions and professional courses through affirmative action policies like reservations the scheduled caste students are often deemed as lacking merit and therefore face exclusion. Reservation is the bone of contention with scheduled caste students often subjected to scathing comments leading to confrontation directly between groups of students.

Reservations for SC/ST and OBC have increased access to these groups and they have benefitted from the same. Weisskopf ( 2004) in his study of assessment of the implementation of the reservation policies in the last 50 years found that large number of underprivileged students have benefited from the policy with respect to equal access to higher education thereby improving their socio- economic status. Reservations have enabled dalits social mobility through individual mobility (Jogdand 2007). Although reservations for SC/ST and OBC have increased access to higher education inequalities still exist. The HRD Ministry’s All India Survey on Higher Education pilot report ( 2012) indicated a rise of 3.8% in the Gross Enrolment Ratio for 2010-11. Although OBC students enrolled stood at 27.1%, the Gross Enrolment Ratio for SC stood at 10.2% and for ST at 4.4% which is low as compared to their population of 16.2% and 8.2% respectively. Thomas Weisskopf (2004) referring to various studies in admissions to higher educational institutions in India catalogued that although there is an increase in SC/ST representation in comparison to their population in the late 70’s the total graduate population had been lesser from 1961 to 1981 with fewer students found in engineering, medicine and law than in courses like arts and pure sciences. Aikara ( 1980) points out that since many of them are first generation learners, language barriers may also be at play, as also absence of facilities such as non-availability of a good place to study, lack of time to study, inability to understand lectures in class etc. (Aikara 1980). Ram (1995) highlights reasons like failing in exams, heavy dropout rates and stagnation due to poor socio-economic conditions, poor educational training and lack of proper guidance.

Institutions of higher learning by providing unequal access to disadvantaged sections, though covertly, reproduce unequal power relations inherent in the society. Dalit students committing suicides shows how caste takes insidious forms. The suicides or high dropout rates among SC/ST in specialised courses is not a result a personal frustrations but are connected to power structures of higher educational institutions. Rampant caste discrimination is prevalent in country’s premier institutions. Labelling in certain ways can bring about self-fulfilling prophecies whereby children defined as low achievers actually view themselves as being low achievers. The paper addresses the concerns of the scheduled caste students who are perceived as lacking merit that also affects their performance. It discusses the experiences and issues they face as dalit students. Located within the social constructivist perspective the paper shows student- student and faculty- student interactions and expectations influence student performance, perceptions and attitudes. It also discusses the strategies to increase social cohesiveness and make learning inclusive.

Methodology

For the purpose of interviews two educational institutions in Mumbai were selected that have a diverse student population. The institutions offer undergraduate BA/BCom/BSc as well as self-financing courses like Bachelor of Mass Media, Bachelor of Management studies, Bachelor of Financial Management and Bachelor of Banking and Insurance. The methodology consisted of holding Focused Group Discussions with students. In-depth qualitative interviews were held with students who were administered both close ended as well as open ended questions. The perception of students was sought on the quota policy and classroom experiences between students and faculty- student interaction.

Findings

The data highlights that stereotypes are created and get validated in the student- students and faculty-student interaction. Students are automatically categorized wherein they develop the self-fulfilling prophecy; the others label them stereotypically leading to prejudice and discrimination which might hamper their performances. Reservation issue is a burning issue and dalit students are often seen through the lenses of caste. They are considered devoid of merit and scathing comments are passed on them by the forward castes. It’s a common phenomenon and it is a preconceived notion that if you belong to particular category then you are not as equal to as general.

Tensions between students and faculty and students because of caste were reported on numerous occasions. The SC students felt that non dalits and forward castes often demoralized them on purpose commenting in ways demeaning for them. They have suffered social distance to the extent that they sometimes refuse to disclose their identity for fear of being branded and labelled as having reached the position they are in because of their reserved category status. Students feel that once their caste is disclosed merit is cancelled. As one respondent states

“I feel scared to disclose my identity. When asked about my caste I often lie to my classmates fearing I may be taunted”

Another States

“I entered the institution purely on merit. But inspite of this I am often commented upon derogatorily purely because of my caste”

Respondents felt that professors also discriminate. They make students feel inferior and not pay attention if they are from rural background, dalit or bad in English language communication. Students feel demotivated because faculty often judge students on the basis of clothes, language, style, accent and this affects performance. This discrimination is not practised openly but covertly. Education becomes a means for the reproduction of society’s inequalities.

As One Respondent States

“I don’t speak very fluently in English. Whenever a question is asked it is only the elite, English speaking students who are given opportunity to answer. I feel demotivated to even attend class.”

“In my class faculty often focus on those students who are articulate and fluent in English.”

Quotas also create rift between dalit and non-dalit students. When asked about quota policies upper caste students felt that because of some dalit student a deserving non dalit is denied seat. Non dalit students often sarcastically pass comments on dalit students that if not for the quotas they would never have reached this position. As a reserved category student one is expected to work harder otherwise is labelled as worthless. Classroom discussions on reservation are either cut short or are based on an assumption that reservation leads to death of merit.

A respondent recollecting her experience mentioned how upper caste student reacted in a discussion on caste system in the classroom

“You people are being benefitted by reservation for so many years. After job, when you get placement, you people forget everything. Only here in this class you are discussing Dalit issues and about the community. But you are not going to do for that particular community outside this space.”

Positively it was felt that quota system is necessary for development of dalit students that helps them participate in higher education as it helps with payment of tuition fees, accommodation and other expenses. It is also effective in raising self-esteem of the students. However what is needed is more rigorous attempt at implementing quota policies to put brakes on marginalisation of dalit students. There is also a need to create awareness about the various scholarships available for dalit students.

Strategies to Increase Cohesiveness

The role that the faculty plays in maximizing cohesiveness and reducing disintegration of the diverse student community must be stressed. The students felt that when the teaching staff is more cooperative and accommodative, it helps reduce friction and animosity between different groups. When the faculty openly deals with ideological differences through discussions, it brings out critical and analytical abilities in the students. When the faculty is objective, the ideological differences between students are respected and discussions with students make them realize that individual differences are a source of richness and diversity and not a problem. Students recounted how their vernacular background which earlier confined them to backbenches drastically reduced when the faculty became more sensitive towards their needs.

The academic weakness of the Schedule Caste students should be met with special academic assistance. Special coaching classes or special/ additional lectures cou ld form a part of such assistance. Remedial lectures, English language coaching could help them integrate better and in reducing their inhibitions to interact with the larger group. At the same time the task of the instructor would also be to engage in open, unbiased discussions with other group of students informing about the reservation issue objectively.

Students also felt that they were not aware of the various activities conducted in the college. Many students from low socioeconomic status were not even aware of the different scholarships and freeships available to them by the government and in some case the institution itself. This lack of information could create friction since the benefits are utilized only by a handful of students. Care should be taken by the institution to circulate information about the activities by displaying it on the notice board without any discrimination.

Conclusion

The aim of education should be to make education more inclusive. Amartya Sen (1999) has remarked that excellence in education should be inclusive of equity. Inclusive education is a process of removing barriers and enabling all students, including previously excluded groups, to learn and participate effectively within the educational system. Institutions should be geared towards developing strategies to improve academic engagement and participation and create a more inclusive learning environment. Curriculum should be so framed so as to take into account the diverse interests and needs of the students. Teachers need to develop inclusive teaching practices and curricular that takes into account diverse interest and needs of the students and reduces alienation which occurs when individual identities and differences are not respected.

References

  1. Aikara, J. (2004) Education: Sociological Perspective, Rawat Publications, Jaipur.
  2. Aikara, J. (1980) Scheduled Castes and Higher Education, Dastane Ramchandra and company, Pune.
  3. Das, P. (2009) Higher education in India, Author Press, Delhi.
  4. Deshpande, S., (ed). (2014). The Problem of Caste. Orient BlackSwan, Delhi.
  5. Jogdand, P. 2007. Reservation policy and empowerment of dalits in Michael, S., (ed) (2007). Dalits in Modern India: Vision and Values, Second Edition. Sage publication.
  6. Kingston, P. (2000) Sociology of Education, in Borgatta E, Montgomery R, Encyclopedia of Sociology, 2nd Edition, pp 2926-2936 Macmillan Reference USA
  7. P P Arya, (ed), (2006) Higher Education and Global Challenges: Systems and Opportunities, Deep and Deep Publications, Delhi
  8. Ram, A. (1999), Education in India: Reforming the system, B R Publishing Corporation, Delhi.
  9. Ram, N. 1995. Beyond Ambedkar- essays on Dalits in India. Har Anand publication, Delhi.
  10. Thornton M, Bricheno P, Iyer P, Reid I, Wankhede GG, Green R, (2010) ‘ Diversity and social
  11. Integration on higher education campuses in India and UK: students and staff perspectives ‘in
  12. Research in post compulsory Education, pp159-176, Routledge.
  13. The Hindu, 2012 “Enrolment of OBC students in colleges goes up, that of SC, ST, still low: survey” 29 September.
  14. Tilak, J., (ed) (2014). Higher Education In India: In search of equality, Quality and Quantity. Orient Black Swan, Delhi.
  15. Wankhede, G. G. (2010), Caste and Education in India in Peterson Penelope, Baker E,
  16. McGaw, (editors), International Encyclopedia of education, Vol 1, pp 589-594, Oxford: Elsevier.

Cite this page

Caste and Higher Education in India: Shades of Discrimination. (2021, Feb 24). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/caste-and-higher-education-in-india-shades-of-discrimination-essay

Caste and Higher Education in India: Shades of Discrimination

👋 Hi! I’m your smart assistant Amy!

Don’t know where to start? Type your requirements and I’ll connect you to an academic expert within 3 minutes.

get help with your assignment